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City Grants Urgent Child Care Funding

Friday July 18, 2003

City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to offer emergency financial assistance to eight local child care programs that face delays in state funding as a result of the budget stalemate in Sacramento. 

The vote drew cheers from about 60 parents and children who showed up to urge the move, chanting in Spanish and English and waving signs that read “Children First—Pass a Responsible Budget” and “Thank you city of Berkeley.” 

“I would not be able to go to work if I did not have a place for my children to go,” said Rosa Equihua, a Berkeley dental assistant who has two children in a pair of programs operated by the Bay Area Hispanic Institute for Advancement (BAHIA). 

“Without Centro Vida, I don’t know what would happen to us,” added Berkeley resident Yolanda Leon, whose daughter attends one of BAHIA’s programs. 

With no budget in place, the state withheld about $400 million in quarterly child care payments this month for roughly 400,000 low-income children across California, according to Michael Jett, director of the child development division in the state’s Department of Education. The delay will affect 288 Berkeley children, according to calculations by Mayor Tom Bates’ staff.  

Jett said some child care centers around the state have already announced closures and others could soon follow suit. 

“The centers are going to run out of money at some point,” he said. “It’s going to get desperate.” 

But Berkeley officials said the emergency city funding should help to shield the local programs, if they choose to take advantage of the offer. BAHIA Executive Director Beatriz Leyva-Cutler said she will seek financial assistance and Bates’ senior aide Julie Sinai said Ephesian Children’s Center in South Berkeley is likely to seek city help as well. 

Two other agencies reached by the Daily Planet said they will not seek city assistance in the short-term, but may request it later. 

Sinai, who has a child in a BAHIA day care program, learned about the state funding problem last week. A July 10 letter from Leyva-Cutler told parents the nonprofit would cut off services to state-subsidized, low-income children Aug. 1 if the organization could not secure a new line of credit, win an emergency loan or refinance one of its buildings in time. Eighty-three of the 135 children in two BAHIA-operated programs are low-income and qualify for state assistance. 

“We greatly regret having to take this action,” Leyva-Cutler’s letter read. “Never in our 28 years of services have we communicated such a drastic and dramatic action to families.” 

Bates responded with an emergency measure on the City Council agenda Tuesday instructing City Manager Weldon Rucker to offer either an advance on annual city grants or an emergency loan to the eight local child care programs serving Berkeley children. 

“I was just flabbergasted when I heard they actually were going to close,” said Bates. “I just tried to think outside the box.” 

Leyva-Cutler, who said BAHIA faces a delayed quarterly payment from the state of $151,000, noted that the emergency city assistance will allow BAHIA to keep its doors open in the short-term. But ultimately, she said, the state legislature must pass a budget. 

“We’re hopeful that the legislature will listen to this...and do something about passing that budget,” she said. 

Six of the eight child care programs that will qualify for city assistance — from a BAHIA’s day care and after school programs, which serve a largely Hispanic population, to Ala Costa Center, which serves the developmentally disabled — provide direct child care services.  

Two of the programs, the Oakland-based Bananas and the Berkeley-based Berkeley Albany Licensed Day Care Operators Association, provide low-income families with child care vouchers. 

Eric Peterson, program manager at Bananas, said the organization provides vouchers for about 65 Berkeley children. At least 30 of those children will be affected by the delay in state funding, he said.  

Peterson said he knew of no local child care centers that planned to reject Bananas vouchers in the near term. But when the checks stop arriving in mid-August, he said, they could have a change of heart. 

“It’s a distinct possibility,” he said. 

Peterson said Bananas, which receives about $1 million per month in state funding, does not plan to ask the city for a loan because the dollar amount involved is too high. But he did not entirely rule out a request for city help. 

Bates said he has concerns about making direct loans. Nonprofits that receive them, he said, may not be able to repay the loans in tough economic times. The mayor suggested he was more comfortable providing advances on the roughly $550,000 in city grants Berkeley is scheduled to dole out this year to at least six of the eight child care programs that serve the city’s low-income children. 

Holly Gold, executive director of Ala Costa Center, which serves 60 children, said her program should be able to make it through August without requesting an advance on the city’s $32,839 grant to the center. If the budget stalemate lingers into the fall, she said, Ala Costa may ask for help from the city. 

Gold said she has been disappointed with the state legislature’s inability to pass a final budget. The city’s action, which came out of the blue, she said, provides a stark contrast with what has happened in Sacramento. 

“I’m just so impressed that the mayor took the initiative to do this,” she said. “I just think that’s great.”